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Italian police net 26 in phishing takedown

Phish, Chip and Mules

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Italian police have arrested 26 people allegedly involved in an international phishing operation.

The Guardia di Finanza (Military Financial Police) cuffed 18 Italian citizens and eight Eastern Europeans as part of "Phish and Chip", an operation aimed at dismantling a gang targeting users of Poste Italiane's home banking services.

The gang allegedly mounted a spamming campaign directing prospective marks towards overseas websites that mimicked the real Italian Post Office website. Victims were duped into handing over login credentials by bogus emails posing as security alerts.

Laptop computers, data backup kit, false documents, mobile phones, and equipment for creating credit cards were seized by police in the course of the raids that accompanied the arrests. Some of the seized items included Banca Intesa credit cards, said to have been used by the gang at the Casino of San Remo in the days leading up to their detention.

According to a police statement, an unnamed 22-year-old hacker was the linchpin of the scheme. Once account login credentials were obtained, lower ranked members of the gang (phishing mules) emptied funds from compromised accounts, transferring money to PostePay cards activated by members of the gang.

The alleged ringleader is protesting his innocence, maintaining during police questioning that he was one of the good guys - a data processing consultant who helped Italian companies prevent credit card fraud.

Security experts welcomed news of the arrests but warned against any complacency, noting that many cybercriminals remain at large. "Phishing and identity theft are global problems, and countries need to work more closely with each other to bring cybercriminals to justice, on illegal activity like this. Internet criminals can use technology to hide their identities, and it can often be a complex web for the police to untangle," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos.

"These arrests underline the growing organised nature of international identity theft gangs, but there are many other phishers still at large."

Earlier this month, more than 10,000 web pages based in Italy were attacked by hackers who planted exploit code designed to open up compromised machines to identity theft. It's unclear at this stage whether or not any of the arrested gang were involved in this attack. ®

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